Unapologetic Ehrlich recounts political travails

November 21, 2011

Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) contends in a new book that his comeback bid last year was “swamped” by a large turnout of African American voters, many of them angry at the tea party and eager to “protect” President Obama.

Much of “Turn This Car Around,” which goes on sale next month, unapologetically recounts controversial episodes from the four-year tenure of Maryland’s only Republican governor in a generation, which ended after Ehrlich’s 2006 defeat by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Ehrlich stands by his assessment of multiculturalism as “bunk,” defends his “principled” decision to cut off two Baltimore Sun journalists and shares lessons from the national controversy prompted by his wife’s pronouncement that she would shoot pop star Britney Spears if she could.

Ehrlich’s take on the role of race in politics — including its impact on his unsuccessful 2010 campaign — is certain to garner attention as well.

The book’s release comes as a longtime Ehrlich aide and a campaign consultant prepare to stand trial on criminal charges that they orchestrated thousands of election-night robo-calls in an effort to tamp down the African American vote last year in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

Ehrlich makes no mention of the controversy in his 241-page book, and prosecutors have not alleged that Ehrlich authorized the anonymous robo-calls.

In the book, however, Ehrlich laments how little political good will came of his efforts as governor to reach out to African Americans and describes a hostile environment for courting black voters in 2010.

“My comeback bid got swamped by a large turnout of African American voters in Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs,” Ehrlich writes. “A primary reason was the usual reason— large African American turnout spurred on by a renewed indignation toward conservatives generally, and tea party activists in particular.”

Ehrlich says that during appearances on “urban radio” during the 2010 campaign, he heard from many angry callers convinced the tea party movement was racist.

“My experiences on black talk radio and in public forums were just shrapnel from this main event,” Ehrlich writes. “But it had one serious consequence for me and others similarly situated — a ‘statement’ turnout on Election Day. The investment in Barack Obama had to be protected.”

O’Malley won the 2010 race by more than 14 percentage points — double the margin of 2006, a more favorable year nationally for Democrats.

Elsewhere in the book, Ehrlich recounts controversies from his tenure as governor, as well as some prior episodes as a congressman and more recent events in the national debate.

He writes that he had no regrets about calling multiculturalism “bunk” during a 2004 radio interview.

Ehrlich says he has long believed that there is “a major distinction between ethnic pride, which is appropriate, and multiculturalism, which is damaging to the society in my view.”

Despite a media firestorm, Ehrlich said that the issue proved not that difficult to handle because he found most people agreed with him “once the issue is thought through to its logical conclusion.”

“The lesson?” Ehrlich writes. “The commonsense majority must not back down when expressing or defending widely held commonsense attitudes, particularly when done to the dismay of the PC police and its intolerant and increasingly out-of-touch friends in the media.”

Ehrlich is also unyielding about his decision to cut off contact with a Sun reporter and columnist in 2004 after a series of stories questioned land deals by the administration.

The Sun sued Ehrlich, prompting a national debate over freedom of the press and access to public officials. He eventually prevailed in court.

In the book, Ehrlich acknowledges that some of his staff “feared a public backlash with the charge that I had become too thin-skinned to lead.”

But, he says, he was convinced that his battle against the “media elite” would “distinguish our team as principled players ready, willing, and able to fight for positions we believed in, even when doing so would be uncomfortable in the short term, or potentially damaging to my political ambitions in the long term.”

Several other aspects of Ehrlich’s tenure are examined as well, including his choice of an African American lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele; his relationship with the business community; and an effort by Democrats in 2006 to block a state intervention in low-performing Baltimore schools.

Ehrlich also recounts a 2003 appearance by his wife, Kendel, at a domestic violence prevention conference in which she said: “If I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would.”

Ehrlich writes that at the time, Spears, 21, had “just posed essentially topless for the cover of Rolling Stone, had routinely posed seductively on magazine covers before and after turning eighteen, and had recently kissed Madonna on the mouth before an international television audience.”

Ehrlich relays that he and his wife came to believe that she had used “an inappropriate choice of words” but should stand firm on the underlying point: “Popular culture makes it difficult to raise confident, independent daughters, as well as sons who respect women.”

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John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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